Back in the days of South African apartheid, there was a period when popular music stars were lured to play at Sun City, a stadium in a Bantustan that was pretending not to be part of apartheid. Eventually there was a protest song, “Sun City.” Charles Laquidara, then the leading disc jockey in Boston, quietly stopped playing any songs by Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt — prominent on his station’s playlist — because they had performed at Sun City. He kept waiting for the station manager to notice.
HEAD SOUTH: Armheins, in South Boston, blends old and new.
For a while, I did a similar thing and quietly stopped reviewing restaurants in South Boston. There weren’t many dining options in Southie, so my editors never asked about it. If they had, I would have told them I was afraid that a reader of color might be harmed by going there. When that stuff stopped happening, I reviewed a few places in that area.
But I never made it to Amrheins Restaurant, the classic dining room of the 1890s with one of the oldest carved wood bars in the United States. Then it closed for renovations in 2005, and reopened — much like the neighborhood — with some of the old German and Irish flavor, some new things for the yuppies, a core of homemade comfort food, and a chef with a name who could make some fancier things. The renovations at Amrheins gave me a chance to catch up.
The dinner menu starts with “Amrheins Small Plates,” so you know things are different now. These are good-size appetizers, priced $5 to $8, or three for $15. You can’t get yuppier than a recent special on lamb chops ($8): three baby chops arranged vertically around a “marrow bone” of French bread stuffed with black-olive spread. The chops had little purple things stuck to them: micro greens. An order of fried calamari ($6) came in a square bowl, and was nicely dry-fried with flecks of something dark and tasteless — perhaps black sesame seeds — for visual interest. A crab-and-lobster cake ($8) was a little bready, but this was more than made up for by the four bay scallops arranged around it.
Back on the traditional side, the soup of the day ($4/cup; $6/bowl) was chicken and rice: well filled, but with an over-salted stock. Chicken pot pie ($5; $10/entrée) had a topping of crisp puff pastry and a filling of chicken chunks and vegetables in a sauce so rich I suspect a little cheese was involved.
Raspberry goat cheese salad ($12) was just like in the South End, except the goat cheese was coated with nuts. There were additional nuts among the field greens. The raspberry part was the flavor of the vinaigrette and one berry.
Another way to appetize yourself is the whole-wheat pizzetta ($8), a fusion of health and comfort food, topped with lumps of hamburger, cheese, and tomatoes. So you get to have pizza and a cheeseburger, and health food, too. I liked it.